Posted by: christinelaennec | November 24, 2013

A Broad Kirk

We’ve been in Glasgow nearly four months now, and in that time I have been to a variety of churches, all of them within the Church of Scotland (known as “The Kirk” in Scotland).  I’ve been struck by what a very “broad Kirk” it really is.

Carving over a door on St. Columba's church, Glasgow.  "Tigh mo chridhe" means "House of my heart".

Carving over a door on St. Columba’s church, Glasgow. “Tigh mo chridhe” means “House of my heart”.

Here are some examples, just to give you an idea:

  • A traditional church service with a woman minister and a very relaxed atmosphere.  There were people there of all ages.  I liked the minister’s blue shoes, her preaching, and the short communion service that was held directly afterwards.   I was made very welcome.
  • An evangelical healing church, held in a community centre.  The service was two hours long, with a lots of contemporary Christian songs, people waving flags, dancing in the aisles, going in and out for cups of coffee.  Children and teenagers mostly left to go to their own Sunday School, but several stayed with their parents and played games on their phones, or coloured or played with toys.  There were people of all ages at the service.  One woman with a kind of palsy embroidered beautifully throughout, and explained to me that it helped her to stay still and listen.  I liked the preaching, was interested to hear testimonies of healing, and was struck by the use of terms such as “supernatural” and “prophetic vision” in the church bulletin.  I was also made very welcome there.
  • A sparsely-attended traditional service where I was by far the youngest.  The person at the door nearly withheld the order of service from me, as I was just a visitor!  I actually – and this, believe it or not, is a rarity – found myself battling to stay awake during the sermon.  (I think this might partly be due to how cold it was in the church.)  People barely acknowledged me.
  • A Gaelic service at St. Columba’s church, known as “the Highland cathedral”.  There was no precentor leading metrical psalm-singing, as in more traditional Gaelic services that I’ve attended.  Instead we sang Gaelic versions of English hymns that I’m familiar with.  On another Sunday, I went to the English service, which is held a bit later on Sunday morning.  The fellowship at this church has been very warm, and I’ve enjoyed the chance to practice speaking Gaelic.

I find it striking that these four churches are all part of the Church of Scotland.  I’ve heard people talking about it being a “broad church,” but now that phrase has real meaning for me.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Church of Scotland, to me at least, is the function it performs as the national church.  In practice, this means that any person within the parish of a Church of Scotland parish church – even if they have never set foot in it or indeed any church before – may ask to be wed, have a child baptised, or have a funeral carried out by that church.  This is quite different from other congregations, who may well say, “I’ve never seen you before, so I’m not going to take the time to perform this ceremony”.  I know from experience that not all ministers of the Church of Scotland are sincerely all-embracing of those residing in their parish.  But certainly the two churches that I have belonged to in Aberdeen have had ministers who took their duty towards all people in the parish very seriously.  It’s a heavy responsibility, and requires a sensitivity to the needs of those “of all faiths or none”.

It will take me a long time to find a new church home in Glasgow, not least because as an ordained elder, I would likely be joining the Kirk Session (assuming they wanted me!).  I would thus be committing to working closely with the team of people who run the church, doing parish visits, serving communion, and so many other aspects of church life.  At the moment, my caring duties are such that I’m not able to carry out the usual duties of an elder anyhow, so there really is no rush to find a new church affiliation.

I think it’s very important to stay open to different styles of worship, and this experience has given me the chance to think about what’s most important to me.

I’ll let you know what happens!

P.S.  if you’re interested in my giveaway of a Rabbie Burns teatowel, and you’re reading this before December 5th 2013, 9 pm GMT, leave a comment here to have a chance at claiming it for your own!



  1. You will find the right church – or it will find you.

  2. Just as the comment above I would say … the right one will find you 😉

  3. What a wonderfully informative post! I was raised Baptist in the American South, and this, too, is a broad denomination. Many Baptist churches are extremely conservative and others quite moderate; my sister is an ordained Baptist minister, but there are several churches in whose pulpit she would not be welcome. Now I am Presbyterian, and I enjoy the inclusiveness of that denomination. I like that the parish kirks welcome anyone in their parishes to look to that church for their spiritual needs: marriage, baptisms, funerals. That is truly ministry in action.

    I laughed out loud when I read about the miserly church that nearly withheld the bulletin! Just what Jesus would do, eh? 😉

  4. How interesting! I don’t often visit different churches as, obviously, if you settle in one there is no real need, but there seems to be a lot of variety there for you. It’s probably worth thinking about doing this just out of curiosity (maybe after Christmas, though!)

  5. what a wonderful summary, Christine. next time I come to visit Glasgow, I would love to go to St. Columba’s church with you. I really like the Gaelic saying over the door and I’ve always been a bit of a fan of St. Columba but I think we may need to go to the English-speaking service as I would be at a total loss in Gaelic although it would be a cultural experience. thanks also for the chance to win the give-away; you are very gracious.

  6. Christine, the older I get the less denominationally focused I become, and the more appreciative I am of the various forms of worship I have experienced. I am very interested in your current process of finding where you are called to serve and be ministered to as well. In the right sidebar of my blog I have a page entitled “Louis” that I wrote in loving remembrance of my husband who died four years ago. It reflects some of our faith experiences in the 38 years we were married. Blessings on you and yours as your explore where you are called to worship 🙂

  7. Good luck with the quest. It certainly sounds as if there are a lot of options to choose from and you will find the perfect kirk to welcome you in. 🙂

  8. Thank you for a wonderful informative post about the church.

  9. If I hadn’t known that your four examples were all Church of Scotland I would never have guessed it. A broad church, indeed. The second one in particular struck me as surprising for a CofS. It sounds similar to what I was used to growing up in the Baptist tradition, but I’ve always preferred the much more traditional style of things as an adult. Not that I go to church services these days, but if I did I would opt for big cathedrals with traditional hymns and a choir. I’m sure you’ll find the right place for you in due course, but in the meantime it sounds as if you’re enjoying exploring the possibilities. It’s good that you’ve had a warm welcome in 75% of cases, but that third one needs to buck up its ideas if it has any chances of surviving, I reckon.

  10. How interesting! 🙂 I often visit different (Roman Catholic) churches here in Scotland, and I find things quite different from what I would expect in Italy.
    Have a lovely Monday.

  11. Fascinating variety! Eventually you will know when you’ve found the right church for you.
    Here in England the parish priest, or vicar, has responsibility for everybody in his or her parish in the same way. If they are conscientious, this means there is a lot to do.

  12. Thanks for such an interesting post! I did not know much about the Church of Scotland and figured most of Scotland was Roman Catholic for some reason. I am one of those rare Catholics in an area that is heavily Baptist and Pentecostal in the American South. It is always interesting to hear about the faiths of others because there are usually a lot of similarities.

  13. Very fascinating! Amazing the variety in one denomination! Things have been crazy busy here and I haven’t had time to email. Thanksgiving is approaching! Trying to get ready for everyone coming here while schooling and taking care of everyone’s health needs…….Hope you all are as well as possible and that you will have a special Thanksgiving celebration this week!! (You never told me you were an ordained elder!!)

  14. You’re right, Christine – being open to ideas is best. When the right one is there, you will know. ❤

  15. I like your “church-shopping” approach – that would suit me much more than, for example, just going to the closest. I’m not sure that I agree with other comments though (to the effect that once you come to the ‘right’ church you’ll know). I reckon there’s probably several churches that would work, but all will have some sort of problem or issue. Therefore you might have to pick one which is “pretty good” and make a commitment to put energy into your relationship with the community for a while and see if you can indeed make the marriage work. But this is an outsider speaking . . .

  16. It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the US, and our family eats an early dinner instead of lunch. Just now there is a lull between the hectic preparations and all the guests arriving for the meal. I wanted to take some of that time to visit my blogging friends. I needed to say thank you. Thank you for the inspiration you provide here in your place and for the comments you leave behind when you visit mine. Happy Thanksgiving, friend.

  17. Dear all,

    Thank you so much for your interesting and thoughtful comments – I’m glad you found the variety as unexpected as I did, although I’m aware that, as Ellen says, there are similar varieties of belief in other churches. I agree that I have to be open to new ideas, and that in some sense the right church will find me (if I go at least halfway!). I also know that there is no perfect church, and that in some ways the relationship is, in oldblack’s words, like a marriage. As for the less-than-welcoming church, I always try to keep in mind that sometimes people are just having a bad day, or confused – maybe they never were “on doors” before that service – and so forth. I’ve been back several times to three of these four churches (the first one I haven’t managed to return to yet) in order to have several “first impressions”.

    Gracie, I really enjoyed reading about Louis and about your shared faith life. I am also, as an adoptive mother, very impressed by how you came to enlarge your family by adoption and fostering.

    Mary in TN, I agree that there are certainly many similarities between denominations and even faiths.

    Relyn, Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for your kind words!

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